Caring for Christ – Nov. 22, 2020

Caring for Christ

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Matthew 25:31-46

November 22, 2020

Main Idea – Christ is present with us and with all who are in need.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

On this Thanksgiving Sunday like no other, we remember that, even in the midst of everything, we are blessed and we give thanks to God for blessing us.  The burdens of these days; the grief and worry, and the limits placed on our movement and our traditions do not outweigh these great gifts.  Our praise and our thanks to God can bubble up like water out of a deep spring; not because we are required to say thank you but because we can share what the Lord has done for us.   This joyful response, even in the midst of hardship, is what living in the kingdom of heaven is all about.

In the Church Year, today is a special day known as Christ the King Sunday, when we celebrate Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  Today is actually the last Sunday of the Church Year; the culmination of all we have learned and experienced about life as a follower of Christ.  Next week we will go back to the beginning.  In the season of Advent, we will wait for the birth of our Incarnate God.

Our Scripture text for this morning is perfect for both Thanksgiving and Christ the King Sunday for it connects our blessings (both received and given) with our relationship with Jesus.  This parable is a familiar one, with an obvious bias for sheep and against goats!  The short hand understanding is “treat people well and you will be rewarded.” But the parable says so much more than that.

Let’s remember that this parable is the fourth of four parables in Matthew chapters 24-25.  All of these parables deal with how believers are to act as they await Christ’s coming kingdom; which is known in Matthew as the kingdom of heaven.  The parable of the 10 bridesmaids which we read two weeks ago, urges believers to focus on what is important in order to participate in the kingdom of heaven.  The parable of the Talents, which we read last week, models how to act in the kingdom.  Today’s parable reveals where the believers will find the kingdom of heaven.  Christ is present with us and with all who are in need.  The kingdom of heaven is as close as our neighbor.

The parable starts with a set up; “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”  (25:31-32).  All the law and order types in Matthew’s community (and communities since) must have cheered at this.  Finally, the Messiah would come and sort everyone out. The good guys will be over here and the bad guys over there. All done. Case closed.

But then the King talks about being hungry and thirsty, about being a stranger and naked, about being sick and imprisoned.  What kind of king suffers these things?  This is the first clue that things will not go as expected.

The people he blesses are surprised, they have no idea why they are blessed.  They say, “When did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or imprisoned?  The king replies “Whenever you helped the lowest of the low, you helped me.”

The people he curses are surprised, they have no idea why they are cursed.  They say, “When did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or imprisoned?  The king replies “Whenever you did not help the lowest of the low, you did not help me.”

The surprise is the key because, of course, if the people had recognized their king, they would have helped him.  They would have bent over backwards to serve him and give him the very best.  They would have seen their actions as earning merit and favor in his eyes.  But none of them, the blessed or the cursed, could have imagine their king hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, or imprisoned.

The blessed are blessed because they have cared for the vulnerable without thought of reward.  Their blessing is “Surprise!  Here is the presence of Christ!”

The cursed are cursed because they cannot see or experience Christ in their midst. Their curse is to remain outside the kingdom of heaven.

So, which are we?   How might we find ourselves among the blessed?  Because whether we are counted among the sheep or the goats probably changes by the day or the circumstance.  Sometimes we act in the spirit of Christ and sometimes we don’t.

This parable tells us that Christ is with those who are in deep need, and not only the virtuous poor but with all who are needy; the good, the bad, and the indifferent.  For them there is no judgment, only mercy.  The parable warns us not to look for Christ in those we meet (which really is a judgment, trying to catch a glimpse of Christ so we know who to help!) but rather to see everyone as Christ does; as individuals deserving love and care as children of God. When we care for them as the people they are, then we care for Christ as well.

This parable tells us that we can find God in the needs of others and in our own need as well. “The God of Jesus, the God of the Bible, is not a remote supreme being on a throne up there above the clouds or out there somewhere in the mysterious reaches of the universe.  … God is here, in the messiness and ambiguity of human life.  God is here, particularly in your neighbor, the one who needs you.”  (John M. Buchanan, FOTW) God is here in our own needs and vulnerabilities.  We meet Christ in our deepest hope or despair.

This parable says nothing about what to believe.  Here Jesus tells us that the only thing that matters is how we care for each other. 

The final surprising piece of this parable comes from looking at its placement in the Gospel of Matthew.   Remember that it starts with ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory…”?  Well, right after this parable Jesus says to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”(26:2) The Son of Man’s glory is not some final judgment day where some get their halos and others get their pitchforks.    The Son of Man’s glory is the cross; the revelation that God so loves the world that God will live and die and live again to show God’s love for all of creation. 

This is the greatest of Good news for our Thanksgiving/Christ the King Sunday.  Our God is revealed to us through our love for each other.  Our God comes to us in our need, in our joys, and in our sorrows.  Our God’s presence is felt when we share ourselves with others.  In this extraordinary season let us remember that it is as simple and as profound as that. 

Let us pray, Surprising God, we thank you for our Christ who shows us your heart.  Empower us to serve you with joy and boldness. Help us to see your people as you do, with love and tenderness and mercy.  We ask this in Christ’s name.  Amen.